24 July 2011

Sunair's Summer Service to Great Barrier Island


Sunair Aviation Ltd was established in by Dan Power and his wife Bev in 1985. Two years later they applied to the Civil Aviation Authority for an air operator's certificate and commenced charter operations. In late 1988 Sunair introduced two air services, a Tauranga-Auckland service using Cessna 402B Utililiner ZK-EHS, (c/n 402B-0217) and a summer service from Tauranga to Great Barrier Island using various single engine aircraft.

Sunair's first aircraft, Piper Pa32-260 Cherokee 6 taken at Tauranga on 27 March 1989. Photo : B Gavin

As part of the initial service operated in 1988 Sunair offered a same day shopper service to Tauranga. Generally, however, only one flight was flown on demand in competition with Great Barrier Airlines who were also operating a similar service.

Barrier Bulletin advertising in more primitive days, December 1988. Note the telephone number for bookings, 2D!
In March 1990 Sunair purchased Island Air Safaris and their Cessna P206 Super Skylane ZK-DRD (c/n P206-0135) and took over their flights from Tauranga to Motiti Island. The Motiti Island service was later sold to Island Air Services.

Annoyance... light in the camera or a flaw in the film in the only photo I took of Cessna 206, ZK-DRD in Sunair colours. Taken at Tauranga on 22 January 1992. Photo : S Lowe
Barrier Bulletin November 1990
The service was well patronised and in 1991 it was extended by offering stops at Pauanui Beach, Whangamata and Rotorua, flights being offered on a Wednesday, Friday and Sunday to both Claris and Okiwi.

Barrier Bulletin November/December 1991
Sunair did not operate the service during the 1992/93 and 1993/94 summer seasons due to a lack of aircraft availability, but on the 16th of December 1994 the service stared again. The flights were offered on a Friday and Sunday. A similar service was offered over the next two summers, with an addition Wednesday flight being offered in the 1996/97 season.

Barrier Bulletin, December 1996
On the 5th of February 1996 Sunair began flights between Tauranga and Napier. Gradually, over the next few years, these were expanded to centres throughout the Central North Island and the development of the twin-engined fleet. The 1996/97 summer season was the last summer operated to Great Barrier Island for some 13 years.

Then, in 2009, it returned to both the centres it had originally served, Auckland and Great Barrier Island, though instead of serving them from Tauranga they were served from Whitianga. Flights between Whitianga and Auckland were introduced on the 14th of December 2009 using Cessna 172 or Piper Aztec aircraft. Flights between Whitianga and Great Barrier Island were advertised as being available a few days later with two retrun flights a day being offered. In October 2010 the company expanded their flights out of Whitianga adding Hamilton, Tauranga and Rotorua to its schedule. This enabled a link to and from Great Barrier Island to these centres via Whitianga. The Sunair timetable is always indicative and runs more to customer’s requirements than to the times on the timetable. On occasions Sunair aircraft have been noted arriving at Auckland from Whitianga before flying empty to Great Barrier, presumably to pick up passengers for Whitianga.

From the route structure and Great Barrier Island timetable, effective 4 October 2010

From the 1st of December 2014 Sunair moved the Auckland terminus of its Whitianga flights from Auckland International to Ardmore Airport. At the same Sunair introduced flights from Ardmore to Great Barrier Island as well as strengthening the Whitianga flights by removing the "two passengers required" restriction before the flights operated. Passengers at Ardmore are able to park for free at Sunair’s secure parking facility, while those arriving from Great Barrier Island or Whitianga who do not have vehicles can choose to either rent a car from the airport or take a $5 regular shuttle to the nearby Papakura train hub. Sunair's first flight operated on Wednesday 3 December 2014, 31 years to the day after Great Barrier Airlines’ operated their first flight between Auckland and Great Barrier Island, Sunair commenced their service from Ardmore. The first flight was operated in Cessna 172 ZK-DHN under the cimmand of Ryan Bergman. The flight left Ardmore at 8.00am, landing at Whitianga before continuing on to the Barrier.
The new Great Barrier Island and Whitianga services
Barrier Bulletin, November 2014
Ryan Bergman with the first passenger to Whitianga on the "new" Sunair services on 3 December 2014.
Photo : Mercury Informer
While not a major operator in the Great Barrier scene Sunair has provided an useful service to the Bay of Plenty and Coromandel and the Waikato and a service that is particularly helpful for the many boaties of the area who leave the yachts moored at the scenic spots of this beautiful part of New Zealand.

In their first summer of operation the new services from Ardmore to Whitianga and Great Barrier Island proved very popular and from 1 May 2015 these were extended by the offering of two new services between Great Barrier Island and Hamilton and Great Barrier Island and Whangarei. On the same day Whakatane was included on flights to and from Gisborne, Napier and Hamilton.

In October 2015 the Great Barrier Island-Whangarei connection was cut due to a lack of patronage.

One of the earlier Cessna 172's,  ZK-SAL taken at Tauranga on the 16th of December 1993. Photo : S Lowe

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